Meal planning and prepping are great health and wellness skills to have.
A well-planned meal plan can help you improve your diet or achieve a health goal while saving you time and money.
Here are 23 easy steps to successful meal planning.
1. Begin small.
Making a meal plan for the first time or after a long break can be daunting.
Making a habit of meal planning is like making any other positive change in your life. Starting small and gradually building confidence is a great way to build a new habit.
Start with a few meals or snacks for the week. You’ll eventually figure out which planning methods work best, and you can add meals to your plan as needed.
2. Examine each food group.
A week, a month, or just a few days of meals should include each food group.
Foods high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats are the healthiest options.
Consider these food groups as you browse your favorite recipes. If any of them are missing, make sure to add them.
3. Make a plan
A successful meal plan requires organization.
A well-organized kitchen, pantry, and refrigerator make menu planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation a breeze.
There’s no wrong way to organize your kitchen. Just make sure it works for you.
4. Purchase high-quality storage containers
One of the most important meal prep tools is food storage.
Meal prep can be very frustrating if your cupboard is full of mismatched containers with missing lids. Investing in high-quality containers is worthwhile.
Consider the intended use of each container before buying. Choose freezer-safe, microwave-safe, or dishwasher-safe containers.
Glass is recyclable and microwaveable. Available in stores and online.
It’s also useful to have different sizes for different foods.
5. Stock your pantry with food.
Keeping a stock of pantry staples is a great way to simplify meal prep and menu planning.
Some healthy and versatile foods to keep in your pantry include:
- quinoa, oats, bulgur, whole-wheat pasta, polenta.
- Black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, lentils
- Tomatoes, tomato sauce, artichokes, olives, corn, fruit (no sugar added), tuna, salmon, and chicken
- Avocado, olive, coconut,
- Baking powder, baking soda, flour, and cornstarch
- Other: almond, peanut, potato, mixed nuts, dried fruit, etc.
By stocking up on these staples, you can focus on picking up fresh produce at the grocery store. This can reduce stress and improve meal planning efficiency.
6. Stock up on spices
Herbs and spices can make or break a meal. For most people, a meal plan with delicious dishes is enough to make the habit stick.
Herbs and spices are loaded with plant compounds that provide a variety of health benefits, including reduced cellular damage and inflammation.
If you don’t already have dried herbs and spices, pick up 2–3 jars of your favorites each time you go grocery shopping.
7. Start with the pantry
Before you start planning your meals, make a list of what you already have.
Examine your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator for specific foods you want to use up or that you need to use up.
This helps you use up leftovers, reduces waste, and prevents you from buying the same items repeatedly.
8. Always make time.
Making a meal planning routine a priority is the best way to start. It can help to set aside time each week for planning.
Meal planning can take as little as 10–15 minutes per week for some. Preparing food items or portioning meals and snacks ahead of time may necessitate a few hours.
Regardless of your strategy, making time and being consistent are the keys to success.
9. Set aside a location to save recipes.
Save recipes in a designated location so you can easily access them at any time.
This can be on your computer, tablet, or phone, or in a physical location in your home.
Preserving a designated area for your recipes saves time and reduces stress associated with meal planning.
10. Seek assistance
It’s hard to come up with a new menu every week, but you’re not alone.
If you are in charge of preparing meals for an entire household, don’t be afraid to consult your family.
If you’re cooking for one, ask your friends what they’re making or look online for ideas.
11. Keep track of your favorite meals.
It’s frustrating to lose a favorite recipe.
Or worse, forgetting how much you disliked a recipe, only to have to endure it again.
Keep track of your favorite and least favorite meals to avoid these culinary mishaps.
Keep track of any changes you make or want to make to a recipe so you can quickly progress from novice to expert.
12. Always shop with a list (or shop online).
Going to the grocery store without a list is a good way to waste time and money.
A list helps you stay focused and resist the urge to buy food on sale that you don’t intend to use.
Depending on where you live, some larger grocery chains allow you to shop online and either pick up or have groceries delivered.
These services may be fee-based, but they can save you time and help you avoid long lines and distracting store promotions.
13. Don’t shop when you’re hungry
Go grocery shopping when you’re not hungry to avoid regrettable impulse purchases.
If you’re hungry before going shopping, have a snack first, even if it’s not part of your normal meal and snack routine.
14. Purchase in bulk
Use your local supermarket’s bulk section to save money, buy only what you need, and reduce unnecessary packaging waste.
Rice, cereal, quinoa, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and beans are all available here.
Bring your own containers to avoid using plastic bags to transport bulk items.
15. Consider how to use leftovers.
If you don’t want to cook every day, plan to make enough for leftovers.
Making extra servings of your dinner is an easy way to have lunch tomorrow.
If you dislike leftovers, consider how you can repurpose them to make them less so.
You can use leftover chicken for tacos, soup, or salad toppings the next day if you roast a whole chicken with root vegetables for dinner.
16. Cooking in bulk
Batch cooking is preparing large quantities of individual foods to use in various ways throughout the week. This method is great for those who don’t have much time to cook during the week.
Make a big batch of quinoa or rice and roast a big tray of veggies, tofu, or meat for salads, stir-fries, scrambles, or grain bowls.
Or make chicken, tuna, or chickpea salad for sandwiches, crackers, or salads.
17. It should be frozen
Cooking in bulk and freezing leftovers is a great way to save time, reduce waste, and stretch your food budget.
Cooking with broth, fresh bread, and tomato sauce is a great way to save time and money.
18. Plan your meals
This is a great meal prep strategy if you want to eat a certain amount of food.
It is popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts who closely monitor their caloric and nutritional intake. It can also help you lose weight or get ahead when you are short on time.
Prepare a large meal with 4–6 servings to use this method. Place each serving in a separate container and refrigerate or freeze. Reheat and eat when ready.
19. Immediately wash and prepare produce.
Try washing and preparing fresh fruits and vegetables as soon as you get home from the farmer’s market or grocery store.
When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to reach for a fresh fruit salad or carrot and celery sticks.
Preparing healthy and convenient options ahead of time helps you avoid reaching for the bag of potato chips or cookies just because they’re quick and easy.
20. Prepare wisely.
Recognize the need to cut corners.
If you can’t chop vegetables or don’t have time to batch cook and portion your meals, your local grocery store probably has some healthy prepared options.
Pre-cut fruits and vegetables and prepared meals are usually more expensive, but if they help you reduce stress or eat more vegetables, they may be worth the extra cost.
No two meal planning and preparation processes are alike. Knowing when to cut back and improve efficiency can help you stay on track in the long term.
21. Using a Slow/Pressure Cooker
They are great for meal prep, especially if you don’t have time to stand over a stove.
With these tools, you can meal prep while doing other chores or running errands.
22. A Menu Alteration
It’s easy to get into a diet rut and eat the same thing every day.
Meals can quickly become monotonous, leading to a loss of culinary creativity. At worst, the lack of variation may lead to nutrient depletion.
To avoid this, cook new foods or meals regularly.
Try quinoa or barley instead of brown rice. Change up your usual broccoli with cauliflower, asparagus, or romanesco.
Consider letting the seasons change your menu. Seasonal fruits and vegetables help you vary your diet while saving you money.
23. Make it fun!
You’re more likely to stick to a new habit if you enjoy it. Instead of seeing it as a chore, reframe it as a form of self-care.
Make meal preparation a family affair if you’re the chef. Make chopping vegetables or batch cooking soup for the week a family activity rather than a chore.
If you prefer to meal prep alone, listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook. It may soon become a pleasure.
Meal planning and preparation helps you eat better and save time and money.
Though it may appear daunting at first, there are several ways to develop a sustainable meal planning habit that fits your lifestyle.